AINSSE (Ainse, Hains, Hins), JOSEPH-LOUIS (Louis-Joseph), interpreter and fur trader; b. 1 May 1744 in Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Mich.), son of Joseph Ainsse, a master carpenter, and Constante Chevalier, daughter of Jean-Baptiste Chevalier; m. 6 Oct. 1775 Marie-Thérèse Bondy in Michilimackinac; d. 12 March 1802 in Varennes, Lower Canada.
During the turmoil of the Seven Years’ War young Joseph-Louis Ainsse went east to stay with an uncle on Île Perrot (Que.). When the British captured Canada he was still living on the island, where he took the oath of allegiance in 1760, but in 1762 he entered the fur trade and by the spring of 1763 had returned to Michilimackinac. On 2 June local Ojibwas captured the fort [see Madjeckewiss], and Ainsse scurried about trying to save British soldiers and traders. Captain George Etherington soon dispatched him to Detroit (Mich.) with word of the uprising. Although some later accused Ainsse of becoming rich from goods looted at Michilimackinac, he was so poor that he wore cast-off clothing. During the next year or so he was a labourer and spent one winter cutting cordwood.
Seeking his fortune, Ainsse drifted down to Fort de Chartres (near Prairie du Rocker, Ill.) and later moved to Fort St Joseph (Niles, Mich.), where his uncle Louis-Thérèse Chevallier was a prominent merchant. He also made a trip to New Orleans (La) about 1767. During his travels he became proficient in a number of Indian languages, eventually mastering nine of them.
It was probably in 1767 that Robert Rogers*, commandant at Michilimackinac, invited Ainsse to return from St Joseph and serve as interpreter. When Ainsse arrived, however, he was not formally given the position, perhaps because he did not understand English well. On 6 Dec. 1767 Rogers was suddenly arrested and accused of treason. Ainsse talked with him frequently during his imprisonment, and while Rogers’s wife taught the young man English they discussed the possibility of the former commandant’s escape. Late in January Ainsse reported his conversations to Captain Frederick Christopher Spiesmacher, the commanding officer. When Ainsse produced a promissory note dated 4 Feb. 1768 and alleged that Rogers had given it to him to assist his escape, Rogers was clapped in irons. Ainsse was rewarded with the coveted office of king’s interpreter, his salary of a dollar a day from the Indian Department beginning on 25 January.
The position was an important responsibility at Michilimackinac. Since the British commanding officer could seldom speak even one of the various Indian tongues, the interpreter served as mediator between authorities and Indians. Michilimackinac was a major centre for negotiations with the peoples of the Upper Lakes, and the summer months, when thousands came for counsel and trade, were particularly active. To be effective, an interpreter had to be trusted by both commanding officer and Indians because an inaccurate translation could create serious misunderstandings.
In the fall of 1768 Ainsse travelled to Montreal for Rogers’s court martial, and he gave damning evidence. To impeach Ainsse’s character, trader Henry Bostwick testified that Ainsse had plundered his goods and ordered an Indian to kill him during the uprising of 1763; as a means of bolstering this charge he had Ainsse arrested. Rogers was acquitted and Ainsse languished in jail from October 1768 to March 1769, when his case was heard. Father Pierre Du Jaunay*, Captain Spiesmacher, Benjamin Roberts*, and others testified to his good character and the jury found him not guilty. When the first canoes left for Michilimackinac in May, Ainsse returned home; nevertheless Joseph Tucker, who had replaced him as interpreter, retained the position. The next year, however, Ainsse’s behaviour in a skirmish with an Indian who had attacked an unarmed trader led to his reappointment. George Turnbull, the commanding officer at Michilimackinac, was so impressed that on 8 June 1771 he restored him to office. Ainsse, he claimed, “knows every Indian Personally.”
During the American revolution, the interpreter was of great importance at Michilimackinac since Britain relied on its Indian allies to hold the Upper Lakes. Moreover, Ainsse’s duties were not confined to that post. On 17 June 1776 Arent Schuyler DePeyster*, the commandant, ordered him to lead a band of Ottawa warriors from Michilimackinac to aid in the recapture of Montreal. Late in October 1778 DePeyster sent him to Fort St Joseph to help Charles-Michel Mouet* de Langlade and Charles Gautier de Verville rally support among the Potawatomis, an expedition that apparently had little positive effect. In the critical year 1779, following George Rogers Clark’s capture of Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton* at Vincennes (Ind.), Ainsse distributed thousands of pounds’ worth of Indian presents, and he took part in DePeyster’s large council at L’Arbre Croche (Cross Village, Mich.), aimed at ensuring the support of the Ottawas and many western tribes.
Ainsse retired from the Indian Department in 1779 and in the fall went to Montreal to winter with his family. He had become quite a prominent trader during his time in the west: he sold furs worth 12,513 livres that year and purchased the seigneury of Île-Sainte-Thérèse, as well as a home in Varennes. When he returned to Michilimackinac on business in the spring of 1780, the new lieutenant governor of the post, Patrick Sinclair, dispatched him to Fort St Joseph along with Nissowaquet* to bring Chevallier and the other residents to Michilimackinac, where they would be less vulnerable in case of American attack. Ainsse succeeded in this mission, but shortly after his return Sinclair confined him to the fort and refused to pay his expenses. Outraged, Ainsse posted a bond and went to Quebec, where on 5 October he petitioned Governor Haldimand for justice. When Haldimand asked the lieutenant governor to give reasons, Sinclair claimed that he had disallowed the bills because Ainsse had purchased supplies on his own instead of through the General Store, a short-lived joint trading venture the merchants of Michilimackinac had set up in 1779. Sinclair refused Ainsse permission to return to the post but eventually approved some of the bills.
In February 1785 Ainsse became a founding member of the Beaver Club, along with such notable traders as James McGill and Joseph Frobisher. During that year commerce in the western Great Lakes region was disrupted by inter-tribal Indian war [see Wahpasha], and in the spring of 1786 the foremost traders to the area suggested that agents be sent with presents to negotiate with the tribes. Sinclair had by this time left Fort Michilimackinac (which had been moved to Mackinac Island), and they recommended Ainsse as the best person to meet with the Ottawas, Menominees, Winnebagos, Sauks and Foxes, and Sioux. He was appointed and in August the expedition set out; in the spring he led a sizeable delegation of western tribesmen back to Michilimackinac for a peace council. They requested that Ainsse winter with them once again and, though he wanted to return to his family in Varennes, he agreed.
On 10 Aug. 1787 James Aird, Charles Paterson, and other merchants presented a petition to commandant Thomas Scott alleging that during the previous winter’s expedition Ainsse had sold Indian Department goods intended as presents. Apparently he had undercut Paterson, a prominent trader, who was out for revenge. An inquiry was not begun before Ainsse left for another winter in the interior; when he returned, however, he was immediately arrested. On 24 June 1788 Scott convened a court of inquiry which collected evidence from witnesses, with Paterson serving as prosecutor. Not until 1 May 1790, at a meeting of a committee of the Legislative Council in Quebec, did Ainsse and his co-defendant John Dease, deputy Indian agent at Michilimackinac, have an opportunity to rebut the accusations. Attorney General Alexander Gray and Solicitor General Jerkin Williams found the charges justified and their findings were upheld by the committee in a report of 28 October. Ainsse’s association with the Indian Department had come to an inglorious end.
Joseph-Louis Ainsse apparently spent the remainder of his life at Varennes, where he died on 12 March 1802. His son Joseph succeeded to his seigneury, and a mixed-blood son, Ance, was known as a chief at the straits of Mackinac.
Arch. de la Soc. hist. de Montréal, Coll. Louis-Joseph Ainsse (mfm. at PAC). Clements Library, Thomas Gage papers, American ser., 84: Roberts to Gage, 30 March 1769; 85: Carleton to Gage, 30 May 1769; 94: Turnbull to Carleton in Carleton to Gage, 31 July 1770; 103: Turnbull to Gage, 12 May 1771; supplementary accounts, Joseph Hans’s account with Capt. Etherington, 2 July 1763; Nicola Bezzo’s account with Etherington for the use of the king, 18 July 1763; Frederick Spiesmacher, journal, 8 Dec. 1767–18 June 1768; Indian Department pay list, 24 Sept. 1768; Benjamin Roberts, “Expenses of evidence attending Major Rogers tryal at Montreal 1769”; box 76, George Turnbull’s Indian expenses, 25 May 1770–25 Nov. 1772. DPL, Burton Hist. Coll., J.-B. Barthe papers, sales book, 1775–79, 27, 30 May 1779; Thomas Williams papers, petty ledger, 1775–79, Lamoth and Ainse account, 19 July 1776. PAC, MG 18, K3, Map of Michilimackinac in 1749. Wis., State Hist. Soc., Consolidated returns of trade licences, 7 June 1777 (transcript). [A. S. DePeyster], Miscellanies, by an officer (Dumfries, Scot., 1813), 274. The Gladwin manuscripts; with an introduction and a sketch of the conspiracy of Pontiac, ed. Charles Moore (Lansing, Mich., 1897), 666–67. Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), 6, 8, 12. Mich. Pioneer Coll., 8 (1885): 466–67; 9 (1886): 377–78, 545–46, 560, 569–70, 576, 581; 10 (1886): 305–7, 400, 405–6, 415, 434–40, 444, 453, 488–89, 498–99, 531–32; 11 (1887): 490–620; 12 (1887): 312–13; 13 (1888): 83–85, 107–8; 19 (1891): 299–300, 304, 425–26, 691; 20 (1892): 208; 23 (1893): 603–80; 37 (1909–10): 537, 542–45. [Robert Rogers], “Rogers’s Michillimackinac journal,” ed. W. L. Clements, American Antiquarian Soc., Proc. (Worcester, Mass.), new ser., 28 (1918): 245, 247. H. R. Schoolcraft, Personal memoirs of a residence of thirty years with the Indian tribes on the American frontiers, with brief notices of passing events, facts and opinions, A.D. 1812 to A.D. 1842 (Philadelphia, 1851), 492–93, 610. Treason? at Michilimackinac: the proceedings of a general court martial held at Montreal in October 1768 for the trial of Major Robert Rogers, ed. D. A. Armour (Mackinac Island, Mich., 1967), 27–29, 37–45, 65, 67, 71–73, 78, 95. Wis., State Hist. Soc., Coll., 12 (1892); 18 (1908); 19 (1910). Massicotte, “Répertoire des engagements pour l’Ouest,” ANQ Rapport, 1932–33: 293, 304. “Colonel Arent de Peister,” “The Kingsman”: the Journal of the King’s Regiment (Liverpool, Eng.), 3 (1931–33), no.2: 4–5.